Parsing FBI Chief's Gitmo Remarks

FBI Director Robert Mueller is a man who chooses his words carefully. In Washington parlance "he stays on message and in bounds." And that's what makes his answers today before the House Judiciary committee so curious.

(CBS)
He was pressed repeatedly about the potential danger Guantanamo prisoners may pose to America. And he tried to be clear. He said the administration is still trying to determine what to do with the 240 detainees still being held. Mueller did concede that maximum security prisons like Supermax prison in Colorado could safely house al Qaeda big shots if they were to be brought to the U.S. And it's true that some that some al Qaeda operatives like Ramzi Youssef are already inside Supermax.

But, the questions continued and Mueller soon was invited to answer a broad hypothetical query. Congressman Lamar Smith, R-TX, asked, "In general, what concerns do you have about releasing individuals suspected of terrorism into our communities? What dangers could they pose?"

Now, nobody in the Obama administration is proposing releasing terror suspects in America. Some detainees will likely be brought here to stand trial in military and/or criminal courts. But, they'll be detained, not released. Still there is a chorus of "not-in-my-backyard politicians" that seems to be blurring that distinction to make sure Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is not moved to the county lock-up down the street.

Mueller could have made that point, but instead chose to answer the "danger" question. He started out carefully saying he could only speak "generally.. But, then he said, "…the concerns we have about individuals who may support terrorism being in the United States run from concerns about providing financing to terrorists, radicalizing others with regard to violent extremism, the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States."

That's all true, but in only in a broad sense. Since 9/11 the FBI has worried about sleeper cells, terrorist financiers and homegrown al Qaeda sympathizers like California-born Adam Gadahn. And prison radicalization is a long-term threat, essentially a recruiting tool used by gangs, mobsters and extremists. That's what Mueller appeared to be talking about.

But, the headlines came in rapid fire. The Wall Street Journal Web site: FBI Director Raises Gitmo Concerns; The Associated Press: FBI director concerned about Gitmo releases; and The Washington Post: Mueller Warns Against Releasing Detainees in U.S..

The stories aren't wrong, but some at the FBI insist they're out of context. In any case the Obama administration now faces even more questions about the touchy subject of Gitmo. When asked about Mueller's testimony Attorney General Eric Holder tried to tamp down the fallout saying the government will shutdown Guantanamo in a way that won't "…put the American people at risk."

The president may give a more complete explanation when he lays out his Guantanamo plan Thursday.

Read: Obama And Cheney Plan Dueling Speeches

  • Bob Orr

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